“We will fight to the end.”
That is the promise Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Momentum Toyota on loan to Lotto-Belisol) made after the first stage of the Tour de Free State.
She finished 9th, 25 seconds behind, Alona Andruk (Ukraine) who won the stage from Virginia to Brandfort (77km) in 2 hours, 2 minutes and 15 second. Sweden’s Emma Johansson (HiTec), silver medallist at the 2008 Olympic Games, were second in the sprint to the line and Olga Zabelinskaya (RusVelo) third.
The first three riders were separated only by three seconds.
Andruk and her Ukraine teammates were definitely the first stage biggest heroes. Right up to the start of the first stage the Ukraine riders were involved in a race of their own. Things started going wrong when they missed their flight in Canada and only arrived in South Africa on Wednesday after 40 hours of constant travelling.
On arriving in Bloemfontein the team was escorted in a police convoy with flashing blue lights to Virginia. They arrived a mere 20 minutes before the stage was due to start.
With the stage being so short the racing was aggressive right from the start. There was constant attacks and lot of gutters.
Things started to unravel for the South Africans during the last seven kilometres when things started to hot up. Moolman-Pasio got isolated from her teammates which meant that she had to cover one attack after another on her own.
In the last kilometre her legs went on “strike”. “I just had nothing left,” said a disappointed Moolman-Pasio. She expects todays stage from Jagersfontein to Bloemfontein also to be a tricky affair because it is again a fast and flat stage.
“Our biggest challenge is going to be not to lose time against any of the bigger teams. I especially will have to watch Emma Johansson.”
The South Africans also will have to watch the Ukraine riders. Olena Sharha and Olena Pavlukhina, both from Ukraine, finished 6th and 7th respectively in the first stage. In doing so they gained valuable ranking points.
Before the start of the Tour de Free State South Africa was ranked 17th and Ukraine 19th.
The goal for both teams are racing to improve their UCI ranking to 13th as that will mean they can send a third rider to the Olympic Games in London.